A few weeks ago, I was on the phone with Javier Ramirez, a bookseller from Chicago. He asked me if I’d read The Other Side by Lacy M. Johnson. I said, “No. Should I?” He told me he started reading it when he was on the bus, on his way to meet friends for a drink. He was so engrossed in the book, it took him two stops after his destination to realize he’d missed it. When he finally arrived at the bar, one friend was already there. Why they waited for the others, he handed The Other Side to his friend and said, “You’ve got to read this.” She immediately became lost in the book, so much so that when the bartender asked if she’d like something to drink, she didn’t look up and instead gave him the not-now-I’m-busy hand.
Javier asked TinHouse Books to send me a review copy. In the meantime, he sent me the recommendation he had written to help handsell book:
To put this memoir to paper was brave; to have that bound, sold and read by the general public is downright heroic. The Other Side will break your heart and shatter your spirit. It will also be the most hopeful and inspirational book you read this year. Maybe ever. Ms. Johnson reconstructs the broken bits of her mind and body before our eyes, at once questioning memory and choices made but ultimately owning her situation. Poetic and gut wrenching, devastating and beautiful, The Other Side is one of those rare books that will change you.
Why is The Other Side so gripping from the opening pages? Because Johnson opens her memoir with her escape scene: Breaking free from a sound-proofed room–two-by-four in hand–while her captor is out establishing an alibi; she arrives at the police station with a steel U-bolt still hanging from her wrist. And after that opening scene Johnson’s grip doesn’t loosen.
This book is personal. It’s a memoir, but Johnson has created a way to write about a painful time in her life by keeping characters at arms length by never using their given names. Instead, those around her become My Older Sister, My First Husband, The Man Who Might Sleep with Me, The First Therapist, The Suspect, The Father of My Children. In fact, her attacker has several names throughout the book, depending on the circumstances at the time: The Suspect, The Man I Lived With, The Man Who Tried to Kill Me… Johnson doesn’t name him to keep him less human, perhaps as a coping mechanism. But for the reader, this treatment becomes a poetic look at a horrific act.
“The Other Side” is timely because of recent “why I stayed” discussions stemming from domestic violence in the homes of professional athletes. Unfortunately, it’s timeless as well. The use of proper pronouns gives it a sense of universality. It’s not just her story, it could be anyone’s story.
This book recommendation from Javier was heartfelt with no hope of personal gain. No offense to our publishing friends, but bookseller to bookseller recommendations have no strings attached. It was with this in mind that I recently asked you through Books & Whatnot, “What should I be reading?” Your response was incredible. And when visiting with you at trade shows, your passion for the books you love is almost palpable.
It was with this in mind that I will be including periodic reviews from your fellow booksellers. Reviews written by booksellers for booksellers. They will be identified as such, and I hope you find them useful.